Jewish World Review Jan. 27, 2006 /27 Teves, 5766
What's in a Divine Name?
By Rabbi David Aaron
Secrets to a Religion of Love
And EL OHIM spoke to Moses and said unto him, 'I am Y HVH.'
…say unto the children of Israel: I am Y HVH,
….and I will take you to Me for a people,
I will be to you an EL OHIM: and you will know that I am
Y HVH your EL OHIM.
And EL OHIM spoke to Moses and said unto him, 'I am Y HVH.' …say unto the children of Israel: I am Y HVH, ….and I will take you to Me for a people, I will be to you an EL OHIM: and you will know that I am Y HVH your EL OHIM.
Experiencing G-d as Y HVH
The attribute of compassion demonstrates that, ultimately, we are encompassed within G-d. In fact the Hebrew term for compassion rachamim is associated with the word rechem which means "womb." From the perspective of Y HVH we exist within G-d as a fetus exists within the womb of its mother. And G-d loves us with the very love that He loves Himself because we exist within Him; we are a part of Him.
Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno, one of the great sages of Italian Jewry in the 15th century, explains the verse in the Book of Exodus "I am Y HVH" (1)to mean:
I am Y HVH, not only the Creator, but He who perpetuates existence, for existence has no substance or continuity except for that which emanates from Me, as it says 'And You perpetuate them all'(2) From all this, it follows that nothing can exist without His will.
When we recognize our absolute and continual dependence upon G-d (Y HVH), we realize that in and of ourselves we are nothing and we completely surrender ourselves to Him. We nullify any illusions of ourselves as if having a separate and independent reality. We understand that every move we make, and every breath we take is only possible because of His continued support and love. Every moment of our existence and every fiber of our being we owe to G-d. When we contemplate the meaning of the Y HVH we realize the absurdity of selfishness and the joy of selfless surrender.
A religion, exclusively based on the Y HVH experience of G-d, could not be a religion of love, only a religion of total surrender. It would guide its devotees towards complete self abnegation no striving and no-self. It would view our lives as totally deterministic. It would consider our categorizing minds as futile. And it would teach us to believe that the boundaries and borders of this world are mere illusions. It would also advocate a monastic ascetic lifestyle since any desire for physical pleasure is rooted in the delusion that the separate individual self is real.
A religion of love must include other perspectives and experiences of G-d to counterbalance the dangers of only experiencing G-d as Y HVH.
Experiencing G-d as A DONAI
"This is My name forever, this is My mentioning from generation to generation." Rabbi Akivah asks, "It is written, "My name", and yet also "My mentioning?" The Holy One Blessed Be He said, "Not as I am written I am called. I am written as Y HVH. However, I am to be called A DONAI." (5)
The sages and mystics explain that the true meaning of the name Y HVH is too overwhelming and must be partially concealed. Its message must be diminished so as not to nullify all borders and distinctions of this physical world. You and I would be totally obliterated if we were exposed to the full experience of Y HVH, like the light of a candle in the light of the sun. Therefore, until we are ready for the ultimate experience of G-d's oneness we are only able to understand Y HVH as A DONAI, which (as noted earlier) simply means "my Master." A DONAI inspires only partial nullification and surrender. The name A DONAI also reminds us of the principle stated in Jewish law that everything the servant owns really belongs to his master.
As we mentioned earlier, when you experience G-d as Y HVH, you realize that there is nothing at all but G-d and you completely surrender every trace of self. However, when you experience G-d as A DONAI you experience yourself existing independent and apart from the Master. The experience of G-d as A DONAI inspires you to surrender only your sense of freedom and ownership. You aspire to serve the Master of the universe in every way without question or challenge.
When you experience G-d as A DONAI, but in a healthy way, then you will become dutiful and servicing. Energized to fulfill G-d's will and committed to do His work on earth. You will be principled and disciplined. And since you understand that everything you have belongs to the Master you will be kindhearted and sharing.
However, if you experience G-d as A DONAI, but in an unhealthy extreme way, then you will lack initiative; you are only able to do what G-d commands. You may be paralyzed at times when you are not sure what G-d wants from you. You may be intolerant of others who do not serve the Master. And you are likely to be neurotic because you are never able to perfectly serve G-d who is perfect.
A religion that is exclusively based on experiencing G-d as A DONAI, could not be a religion of love, only a religion of subservience. Although it would not preach total surrender and no-self, it would, however, teach sub-ordinance, submission, obedience and dutifulness. Even though you have an independent self and the freedom of choice, to be true to yourself and true to G-d you must surrender your freedom. You must aspire to only be G-d's humble servant and always seek to fulfill His will. You should disavow ownership of any property or possessions and dedicate it all to the service of G-d. A DONAI is your Master and you and everything you have is really His. Although you are not nothing you definitely own nothing.
As a servant you could love G-d, your Master. Unlike the extreme Y HVH experience, you do not feel subsumed or obliterated by G-d's overwhelming presence. But you do not fully experience the joy of being in love since you feel powerless in the presence of the Master of the universe; dwarfed by His almighty presence and completely subordinate to Him. You could never fathom the possibility of becoming a significant other to G-d in a loving relationship of mutual respect and partnership. Your relationship with G-d could only be servant-master but not lovers.
A religion of love must include other perspectives and experiences of G-d that counterbalance the surrendering/submissive implication in the Y HVH/A DONAI experience.
Experiencing G-d as EL OHIM
G-d as EL OHIM creates the world through the power of judgment, which establishes principles, laws, boundaries and borders. In fact, according to the Torah's description of the progressive creative process, each new creature exhibits greater characteristics of distinction, mobility, individuality, independence and freedom. The pinnacle of creation is achieved through the creation of a human being, a creature modeled in the very image of EL OHIM. G-d breathes into us the breath of life, giving of His very own life force a Divine soul. The Kabbalah describes the soul as a spark of G-d an aspect of G-d. From the perspective of EL OHIM we are dangerously empowered with the freedom to do other than G-d's will and the potential for great selfishness. We are so godlike that we too can achieve the powerful status of the title EL OHIM, as it is written: I said, "You are all EL OHIM, children of the Most High are you all." (7)
According to the oral tradition, (8) prior to our creation, G-d took counsel with the angels, asking whether or not He should proceed. The angels advised against such a risky act, predicting our thirst for power and rebellious nature. G-d, however, went ahead and risked it. We, in our apparent independence and freedom of choice, are the epitome of a "being" significantly other than G-d.
The name EL OHIM not only refers to G-d as a Creator, who creates through the attribute of judgment, but it also means that G-d is the Judge of our actions.
Therefore, the full message of EL OHIM is that we are created beings other than G-d, with distinct identities, endowed with free will. We can make significant choices, even rebellious ones contra to G-d's will, incurring real consequences. G-d relates to us and responds to our choices. He evaluates, judges and determines the consequences of our actions.
From the perspective of the name EL OHIM, we are far from the nothingness implicit in the name Y HVH. And we are far from the subordinate subservience implied by the name A DONAI. In fact, the Midrash states:
When G-d created man, the angels mistakenly wanted to praise him as "The Holy" (thinking he was G-d). (9)
When you experience G-d as EL OHIM, but in a healthy way, you are self aware, confident and assertive. Created in the image of EL OHIM, you feel empowered ambitious to take control and actualize your godly potential. You feel driven to reflect the absolute uniqueness of G-d and become a true individual. You are inspired to be proactive, masterful, resourceful and creative. You are constantly mindful of the power to choose and the ability to make things happen.
However, if you experience G-d as EL OHIM, but in an unhealthy extreme way, with no counterbalance from the Y HVH-A DONAI experience, then you will become self-absorbed, self-possessed, self-centered, self-indulgent, narcissistic, elitist, arrogant, aggressive, competitive, controlling, domineering, manipulative, deceptive, ruthless, violent, etc.. At the outer extreme of the EL OHIM experience is the belief in other gods and the desire to be a G-d. The name EL OHIM, independent of the name Y HVH, is the root of idolatry. In the Torah the idea of other gods is referred to as EL OHIM Acherim. (10)
A religion, exclusively based on experiencing G-d as EL OHIM, could not be a religion of love but only a religion of self-worship. It would inspire just the opposite to surrender, no-self, sub-ordinance or submission. Of-course, when you are so self-absorbed you can't achieve love. You feel no need for any one else in your life.
When you experience G-d as Y HVH, you are inspired to surrender your self. When you experience G-d as A DONAI you are inspired to be completely subservience. And when you experience G-d as EL OHIM you are inspired to be godly and eventually a god yourself. A religion of love must guide us towards a relationship with G-d as Y HVH/A DONAI, as well as a relationship with G-d as EL OHIM. Together they provide the essential balance necessary to protect us from the dangers inherent in the opposite extremes.
Imagine three people, Janice, Bob and Dan, standing at the foot of Mount Everest. This breathtaking site leaves Janice awestruck and speechless. Devastated by its enormity, she suddenly realizes that Mt. Everest is really only an infinitesimal fraction of the unfathomable vastness of the universe. Overwhelmed by the incredulous she realizes the futility of her categorizing mind. She is overcome with the desire to surrender delusions of her self-made importance. Her total nothingness becomes obvious in the face of reality. She uncontrollably urges to merge with the mysterious; melt back into the ineffable all. She has experienced the truth that there is nothing but Y HVH.
Upon sight of this masterful work of creation, Bob exclaims, "Oh, my Lord!" He feels humbled in the face of the Creator of the universe. Inspired to express His devotion to the Master of all he reaches for his Book of Psalms and recites an ancient classic praise to A DONAI. His heart fills with the desire to be like this mountain a dedicated servant of G-d; serving to communicate G-d's glory to the world.
Dan, on the hand, has no patience for Janice's desire for quiet meditation or Bob's devotional prayers. "Man, oh, man!! We are goin' to conquer that baby!" He proudly affirms. When he sees Mount Everest he sees challenge and adventure; an opportunity to rise to great new heights. He's headed for the top and is ready to assert him self with clever navigation, brute strength, determination and persistence. The majestic radiance of Mount Everest only awakens within Bob the desire to express his own majestic grandeur. Attuned to the presence of EL OHIM within nature, Dan is driven to also find and express his own godliness.
Standing before Mount Everest Janice celebrates her no-self in the face of Y HVH Ultimate Reality. Bob affirms devotional subservience to A DONAI his LORD. And Dan commits to actualize his godly potential EL OHIM. However, neither one of them experienced the joy of being in love the truth of Y HVH/A DONAI EL OHIM
Experiencing G-d as Y HVH EL OHIM
(1) Exodus 6:2
(2) Nechemiah 9:6
(3) Nefesh HaChaim 3:11
(4) Exodus 3:15
(5) Talmud, Kiddushin 71a
(6) Yoma Chapter 3:7
(7) Psalms 82:6
(8) Genesis Rabbah 8:5
(9) Genesis Rabbah 8:10
(10) Exodus 20:3
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JWR contributor Rabbi David Aaron is the founder and dean of Isralight, an international organization with programming in Israel, New York South Florida, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Toronto. He has taught and inspired thousands of Jews who are seeking meaning in their lives and a positive connection to their Jewish roots.
He is the author of the newly released, The Secret Life of G-d, and Endless Light: The Ancient Path of Kabbalah to Love, Spiritual Growth and Personal Power , Seeing G-d and Love is my religion. (Click on links to purchase books. Sales help fund JWR.) He lives in the old City of Jerusalem with his wife and their seven children.
© 2005, Rabbi David Aaron